Genome-wide nucleosome maps revealed well-positioned nucleosomes as a major theme in eukaryotic genome organization. Promoter regions often show a conserved pattern with an NDR (nucleosome-depleted region) from which regular nucleosomal arrays emanate. Three mechanistic contributions to such NDR-array-organization and nucleosome positioning in general are discussed: DNA sequence, DNA binders and DNA-templated processes. Especially, intrinsic biophysics of DNA sequence preferences for nucleosome formation was prominently suggested to explain the majority of nucleosome positions (‘genomic code for nucleosome positioning’). Nonetheless, non-histone factors that bind DNA with high or low specificity, such as transcription factors or remodelling enzymes respectively and processes such as replication, transcription and the so-called ‘statistical positioning’ may be involved too. Recently, these models were tested for yeast by genome-wide reconstitution. DNA sequence preferences as probed by SGD (salt gradient dialysis) reconstitution generated many NDRs, but only few individual nucleosomes, at their proper positions, and no arrays. Addition of a yeast extract and ATP led to dramatically more in vivo-like nucleosome positioning, including regular arrays for the first time. This improvement depended essentially on the extract and ATP but not on transcription or replication. Nucleosome occupancy and close spacing were maintained around promoters, even at lower histone density, arguing for active packing of nucleosomes against the 5′ ends of genes rather than statistical positioning. A first extract fractionation identified a direct, specific, necessary, but not sufficient role for the RSC (remodels the structure of chromatin) remodelling enzyme. Collectively, nucleosome positioning in yeast is actively determined by factors beyond intrinsic biophysics, and in steady-state rather than at equilibrium.

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